Padmashri Dr. Shanthi Ranganathan is the Founder, Director of TTK Hospital, a non profit, pioneer voluntary organization involved for more than three decades in the holistic treatment and rehabilitation of persons addicted to alcohol anddrugs.
Dr. Ranganathan is the recipient of the Padmashree Award in 1992 from the Government of India and the United Nations Vienna Civil Society Award in 1999, which was presented to her by the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.
Dr. Shanti Ranganathan shareswith Marie Banu and Latha Suresh her views on alcoholism and how it can be treated.
You have been working in the area of alcoholic addiction treatment and rehabilitation for over 34 years. What are the issues caused due to alcoholism?
Poverty is the major issue caused by alcoholism. Violence,suicide amongst women, health issues, and accidents are others.
What steps have you taken to reduce alcoholism in our state?
In any community when use of alcohol reduces, alcoholism also reduces. Along with this the negative consequences related alcohol use such as health problems, accidents etc also reduce.
While total prohibition is an option, most Indian states rely heavily on the revenue generated from sale of alcohol to meet the expenditure of the state Government. A NIMHANS study showed how the Government spent a lot more on alcohol related problems when compared to the revenue generated from sale of alcohol. In this situation until the state Governments implement prohibition, there are other measures that can be taken to reduce negative impact of alcohol use.
In the first place the number of alcohol selling shops can be restricted and the hours of operation can be reduced. The Government can make a decision not to increase the production of alcohol over the years and limit thequantity produced.
The cost of sale of alcohol definitely influences the quantity of consumption. Therefore with the TASMAC having monopoly over the sales, the Government can increase the cost of alcohol which will influence the consumption levels. Out of every 10 people who drink alcohol, two people will become alcoholics. Alcoholics cannot reduce or restrict their drinking. This increase in price will not help influence the already dependent alcoholic population. For the alcoholic giving up totally is the only option. But increase in cost will influence all the other people who drink.
Have you taken any steps to sensitise the corporates on social drinking and its limits?
We had a major project with International Labour Organization where we helped industries to formulate a policy with regard to alcohol. This policy helped increase awareness about alcohol among the employees, provided guidelines to supervisors to identify problem alcohol use which influences work performance. The Hindu wrote a policy and Mr. Ramajayam released it.Hindustan Motors at Thiruvallur also evolved a policy, amongst several others. This policy states that if any employee comes to work under the influence of alcohol, they should not be allowed to enter office.
The policy focuses upon drinking, its impact in work space and amongst employees, and the action that needs to be taken. Organisations also coordinated a promotion programme encouragingalcoholics to seek help for de-addiction and even offered to pay the treatment charges.
We organize awareness programmes for companies; and training for managers and supervisors to identify alcoholics and teach them how to deal with such employees.
With the employee, we do not discuss about his drinking, but instead talk on the negative effects it has on his work. For instance, the symptom could be:coming late for work and leave early; availing leave on Friday, complaining of persistent headaches; frequentingthe toilet; unable to keep awake during night shifts; reduced efficiency; missed deadlines; and fighting with colleagues.
With influx of migration for corporate employment, more women consume alcohol than before? Your comments?
The number of women seeking treatment for de-addiction has not tremendously increased.They have not become addicts because of social pressure and their responsibility towards their children.
The number of women social drinkers and small drinkers have increased, but women alcoholics who need help are very few. That is a big relief!
Unlike western countries, there aren’t any women centric centres in India to treat alcoholics. It has not become an issue for us as yet to be worried about.
In what way is treating addiction in India different from other countries? Do you use tele-counseling for treatment?
In India, we take into consideration our culture and norms and our treatment procedure has gone through a lot of modifications and changes.
Tele-counseling is not a mainstream activity as yet!We use it only for follow up. Each of our counsellors are provided with a mobile phone. When a patient is unable to come in person, he calls the counselor to seek guidance.
At our institution, the first criteria to admit a person for treatment is family support. We insist the patientto be accompanied by one of their family members-spouse/parent/relative.We also extend thecounseling programme to the family members. If a patient does not have a family to support, we try to create the family, like his uncle or aunt who can be contacted to help him.
What is your advise for the youth of today?
There are many healthy ways in which one can have fun. Alcohol is not the only way!If you have a choice, say no to alcohol. Even if you take alcohol, be a responsible drinker. Do not drive under the influence of alcohol, and do not consume alcohol on a regular basis. Never have more than two drinks at a time. There are many ways in which you can stay as a responsible drinker. Have meals before drinking alcohol.